Hilltop Villages to See the Côte d’Azur Hinterlands
When most people think of the Côte d’Azur, they think of glamorous spots like Cannes, Antibes, and Nice—beautiful cities, all of them. But this glorious corner of France is also home to charming inland villages that are well worth a visit. Let’s look at a few.
Gourdon, The Eagle’s Nest
Clinging to the top of a sheer precipice over 2,000 feet above sea level, Gourdon overlooks the Loup River Gorge. From its main square, there are magnificent views across the gorge, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The town’s main feature is the Château de Gourdon, with beautiful gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, who also designed the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Gourdon is listed as one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France” and portions of the movie Les Miserables were filmed here.
Saint-Martin-Vésubie, The Little Switzerland
A century ago, the élite of Nice escaped the summer heat by taking their vacations in the mountainous Suisse Niçoise (little Switzerland of Nice.) The village sits at the edge of the Mercantour National Park and is a wonderful base for hiking, biking, and fishing. Just 15 minutes away is the Alpha Wolf Park where wolves live in relative freedom. You can watch several films that show the wolves and their impact on the local environment, then see the actual wolves from the shelter of specially constructed blinds. Also near Saint-Martin-Vésubie is the sporting center La Colmiane, with the longest zip line in France—over a mile long!
Roure, Village of Trees
Not far from Saint-Martin-Vésubie sits the medieval village of Roure, in a dramatic position above the Tinée River. Just outside of town is an unusual arboretum where hardwoods and conifers from mountain ranges worldwide are grown. It is also a center for “No-Made” art, where artists place their works outdoors and let the forces of nature refashion them over time.
Saorge, Tibetan Village
Towering above the steep Roya Gorge, Saorge holds a strategic position and was once home to three military forts. The town has passed between French and Italian control over the centuries and some inhabitants still speak a dialect called royasque, a combination of old languages from the two countries. A highlight of any visit is the Franciscan Monastery, famous for its ancient sundials. Some people say that the combination of a mountain location, narrow streets and a monastery gives Saorge a “Tibetan” character.
Opening image of Gourdon: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Gourdon: Marie de Gourdon
Château de Gourdon garden: Creative Common License attribution Bernard Gagnon
Saint-Martin-Vésubie: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Roure: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Raore arboretum: Creative Common license attribution Fal7i
Saorge: Creative Common License attribution Patrick Rouzet